SAN FRANCISCO For months, Facebook and Google have been locked in a mess with news publishers and lawmakers in Australia.
At the heart of the war is whether tech giants have to pay news organizations for the news items shared on their networks. Under a law proposed by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, both Google and Facebook will be required to negotiate with media publishers and compensate them for the content displayed on their sites.
Facebook and Google have fought hard to prevent the Australian law which is expected to pass this week or else from forcing their hands off. But on Wednesday, the two companies changed sharply on how to move away from the regulatory future.
Google started day by day unveiling a three-year global deal with Rupert Murdochs News Corp. to pay for publishers ‘news content, one of several such deals it has recently announced where it appears to be effectively capitulating to publishers’ requests. Hours later, Facebook took the opposite measure and said it would restrict people and publishers from sharing or viewing news links in Australia, in a move that was effective immediately.
In a conciliatory language to publishers, Don Harrison, president for global partnerships at Google, said the company had invested in helping news organizations over the years and hoped announce even more partnerships soon.
Facebook hit a noticeably different tone. The proposed law fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between our platform and the publishers who use it to share news content, William Easton, managing director of Facebook Australia and New Zealand, said of draft Australian legislation.
Divergence illustrates different ways Facebook and Google approach news. For years, the two internet giants had treated news publishers more or less the same. Both had little incentive to pay the media for news content and argued, correctly, that they helped push many readers into the news that would otherwise go unnoticed on easily trafficked websites.
But the continued decline of newspapers compared to the billions of dollars Google and Facebook reaped in digital advertising intensified questions about whether the platforms had a responsibility to financially support publishers. In recent years, both companies began to pay news organizations through various programs as criticism about misinformation on their platforms seemed to increase the need for quality journalism.
Now the situation in Australia has underlined that the blockchain approach could go so far because Facebook and Google ultimately value news differently. Google’s mission statement has long been to organize information to the worlds, an ambition that is not achievable without updated news. For Facebook, news is not so central. Instead, the company is positioned as a network of users coming together to share photos, political views, online memes, videos and, occasionally, news articles.
Google is already used to playing a different game in every other country, Siva Vaidhyanathan, a professor of media studies at the University of Virginia, told companies about different approaches. While he said Facebook was taking what he considers a moral stance, Google may have gone beyond this fantasy of a universalized approach to doing business in the world.
Paul Fletcher, Australia’s communications minister, said the government would move forward with the legislation even when conversations with Facebook continued.
In interviews, he praised Google for its involvement in the process and suggested that Facebook would be closely scrutinized to decide to remove all credible sources of authoritarian news from the platform. In an interview with 2GB radio, Mr. Fletcher added that the decision certainly raises questions about the reliability of the information on the platform.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, the country’s leading competition authority, spent last year drafting a bill for the Australian Parliament that would require Facebook and Google to negotiate with media publishers and pay them for content . The legislation includes a code of conduct that will allow media companies to shop individually or collectively on digital platforms over the value of their news content.
Google and Facebook saw the proposed legislation as a troubling precedent. As negotiations on the proposal continued throughout 2020, both companies openly said they might need to use more drastic measures against it.
In August, Facebook said it would do so block users and news organizations in Australia by sharing local and international news on her social network and Instagram if the bill would move forward. Last month, Google also threatened to make its search engine unavailable in Australia if the government passes legislation.
But in recent weeks, Google has tried to mitigate the impact of the proposed legislation by reaching agreements with media companies like Reuters and The Financial Times. Last year, Google said it would commit to paying $ 1 billion in license fees for three years to news publishers for content displayed within the Google News site, as well as Discover, the news source that appears in the Google mobile search app.
Google’s deal with Mr Murdochs News Corp on Wednesday was particularly noteworthy. The two have shown open hostility to each other for years, dating back to the earliest days of the search engine.
In 2009, Mr. Murdoch threatened to remove News Corp articles from Google, accusing the internet giant of stealing its content. Google has long suspected that Mr. Murdoch and News Corp. sparked a growing antitrust scrutiny in Washington and among state attorneys general, according to current and former Google executives.
Under the two companies’ agreement, Google agreed to pay News Corp. for the use of its news content without disclosing specific markets or dollar amounts.
But the search giant did not accept a key point in past negotiations, according to two people familiar with the deal. The agreement does not explicitly include the payment of links and news snippets appearing in the overall search results, Google’s main source of energy.
IN a press release declaring victory for its quixotic search to force Google to pay for the news, News Corp also said the deal included developing a subscription platform and investing in video journalism from YouTube, a Google subsidiary.
Facebook’s decision on Wednesday was in line with its past statements regarding the blocking of news links in Australia. The move could prove very difficult for Australians, with publishers no longer able to share or post any content from their Facebook pages and users unable to view news articles shared on Facebook by overseas publishers.
Within Australia, the ban on Facebook news seemed to be spreading by accident. News sites worked and then did not work, with error messages for some users and broadcast posts disappearing for others.
But by 9 a.m. in Sydney, the impact was noticeable and even wider than Facebook statements suggested. In addition to blocking news publishers, the New South Wales Fire and Rescue sites, the Meteorological Bureau, and state police departments were all cleared. Even state government websites with public health information about the pandemic were blocked, causing outrage by many officials and lawmakers, including South Australian Senator Sarah Hanson-Young.
In a statement, Facebook’s Mr. Easton said the social network had largely helped the media industry and that publishers would not be able to increase their revenue in the same way without the help of businesses.
The exchange of value between Facebook and publishers goes in favor of publishers, he said. Last year Facebook generated approximately 5.1 billion free referrals to Australian publishers worth about $ 407 million.
Josh Frydenberg, Australian Federal Treasury and Liberal Party Vice President, said in a tweet that he and Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, had a constructive discussion Wednesday.
They would keep trying and find a way forward, Mr Frydenberg said.
Katie Robertson contributed to reporting.
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